There is an ever-increasing likelihood that we may be forced into a third election. This would be an abominable reflection on Israel’s political leaders and could have disastrous consequences.
If the reason for this demoralizing situation were attributable to ideological differences, that would be at least partially understandable. But the reality is that the country today is more united on basic foreign policy and defense issues than at any time since the failed Oslo Accords, nearly three decades ago. Aside from a reaction against coercion by the haredi politicians, there has been no meaningful debate during the past two elections on any issue other than personalities.
There is a consensus among most Israelis, who wish ultimately to separate themselves from the Palestinians but currently oppose a Palestinian state which would become a terrorist entity and launching pad for the Iranians. There is also a broad consensus that the major settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley should be annexed to the Jewish state.
Despite minor differences, Likud, Blue and White, and Yisrael Beytenu share these objectives and with the exception of the extreme Left, the smaller parties, like most Israelis, also support a unity government.
The only reason we have ongoing governmental paralysis is simply due to the burning personal ambition of the leaders of the two large parties to head the government and their inability to reach a compromise.
History will surely judge our leaders adversely for behaving in such an irresponsible manner at this critical time.
We are told by politicians and defense officials alike that there are serious threats of military confrontation on two fronts.
The first term of the Trump administration is drawing to a close and, from being blessed with the most pro-Israel US administration, in a little over a year we could have a reverse situation. If one of the current leading contenders of the Democratic Party becomes president, we might face the most hostile US administration we have ever encountered – one that would make even the hostility of the European nations pale by comparison.
Although there has been considerable concern over the manner in which Trump abandoned the Kurds, he still remains publicly committed to backing Israel. Besides, his evangelical allies who represent his base would terminate their support of him if he acted otherwise.
Due to the current impasse in Israel, Trump has been forced to suspend the release of his peace plan. Although most analysts predict it will contain some recommendations that will displease Israel, overall it is likely to be a positive step forward and will take account of Israel’s security requirements and may even include recommendations endorsing Israel’s determination to annex the major settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley. It is highly unlikely that Israel will ever have a more opportune time to pursue a sustainable regional settlement with its neighbors. But alas, this opportunity will be lost if our political leaders cannot get their act together.
There is little doubt that under normal circumstances, many Israelis, including those who dislike him personally, would prefer the politically experienced Benjamin Netanyahu to the political neophyte Benjamin Gantz to lead the nation over the next 12 months. Aside from Netanyahu’s friendship with the US president, he enjoys a unique relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and other Asian, Latin American and African leaders. On a purely practical level, one would assume that it would be in Gantz’s interest to have 12 months to work with Netanyahu at the helm of a national unity government so that he would be far more equipped to assume the role of prime minister.
The demand of Blue and White that Netanyahu abandon his right-wing bloc of 55 MKs is disingenuous. All those who voted for this bloc effectively also voted for Netanyahu. Likud therefore has every right to insist on retaining the bloc because to do otherwise would be political suicide for it. The right-wing bloc is really no different from the composition of Blue and White, which comprises three distinctly different groups that only joined together for political expediency, with their sole common agenda being the ousting of Netanyahu. At least the right-wing bloc of 55 can agree on their preferred candidate for prime minister. That cannot be said for the Blue and White MKs, many of whom are not overly enamored with their candidate, Gantz.
The legal issues facing Netanyahu may drag on in the courts for a year or more. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit should determine whether he proposes to indict the prime minister as soon as possible and this could have an influence on the formation of the next government. But even now, weeks after the hearing in which Netanyahu’s lawyer submitted evidence to rebut the allegations against him, Mendelblit appears unlikely to make a decision before the time allotted for forming a new government expires.
During these stressful times, when the prime minister will be obliged to make critical decisions, it will be very problematic if his mind is distracted with defending himself in court and facing an ongoing flow of scandalous leaks and rumors promoted by the media. Irrespective of whether he makes the right call, many will allege he was motivated by personal interests rather than the national interest.
If we are faced with new elections, a government will not be formed before April at the earliest, when the US will be in full election mode. There is every possibility that Trump would simply delay the release of his peace plan with no guarantee that he would be re-elected or that he would revert to the plan after the election. Should that happen, we may miss a heaven-sent opportunity of possibly annexing the major settlement blocs and securing American support of our security requirements. That would be a self-inflicted disaster.
It is therefore incumbent on both Netanyahu and Gantz to stand up and be accountable to the nation. They must act responsibly, suspend their personal ambitions and reach a compromise that will achieve a unity government able to move forward to serve the country that elected them.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom